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a weightlifter’s tale

I was born in Cambridge in 1964. My father was Welsh, my mother was English. My father was born in Pontypridd which is why I ended up competing for Wales.

I was quite small as a youngster. I mean, I’m not that big now, I’m only five foot eight. I was never really interested, believe it or not, in sport in school. I was never interested in football or cricket. One of the things I was interested in was comic books and super heroes and people that have special powers. I used to get the Marvel comics and read about Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk, and I used to daydream about having some sort of super power, myself.

One day, I was reading the latest edition of Marvel and there was an advert which some people may remember. It was for the Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension Bodybuilding Course. It’s basically the story about a guy who gets sand kicked in his face and his girlfriend gets taken away by the hunk at the beach; he goes off and does the Charles Atlas course, changes himself, beats up the bully and gets the girl back which, although it isn’t politically correct, at the time it was appealing to me. So, I sent off and started doing the exercises in my bedroom, deep-breathing in front of an open window and hundreds and hundreds of press-ups everyday, and my body did start to change, much to my surprise.

Then in 1975, I went to see a film called Pumping Iron which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger who, at the time, was not famous at all. He was a much bigger guy than Charles Atlas and he developed his physique through using weights. So I thought, “Well, maybe just using your body weight is limited and perhaps I should start lifting weights”. So, I did, not to be an Olympic star or to go to the Commonwealth Games but just to build up my body, to be a stronger person.

Over time, I started to get more interested in the strength increases and increasing muscle mass. In 1978, I saw the weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games on television and I thought what a great sport it was. I then changed from trying to build muscle to trying to build strength.

who’s this welsh bloke?
In 1979, I entered the British Championships and I managed to win that, but winning wasn’t the most significant thing. The most significant thing was that I met a guy called Den Welch who ran the Empire Sports Club in Bristol which was home to many champions. He’s passed away now but he spotted my potential and asked me to go along for the summer holidays and said that he’d train me. So I went, lived in Bristol, trained twice a day, and in 1982 went to the Commonwealth Games. I think I was seventeen. Den always had a lot of belief in me and he always said, “You’re going to win!”. In 1978, I was trying to qualify for the Commonwealth Games; in 1982, this guy was telling me I could win it! If I’m honest, I didn’t completely believe that I could … but he did.

There’s two lifts in weightlifting, the snatch and the clean and jerk, and after the snatch event, I was actually leading by seven and a half kilos and I had a lighter body-weight over Bill Stellios, the reigning champion, the Australian. I went off to the toilet in between and I was just sitting there, relaxing, getting ready for the clean and jerk, and there were a couple of Australians in their and they were, like, “Who’s this Welsh bloke, David Morgan? He’s leading by 10k and I’ve never heard of him!”, and that kind of gave me a little bit of confidence.

So, I went to the clean and jerk, and Den, as always, was supremely confident and he chose all the right weights. It was quite a nail-biting finish because the Australian was a bit stronger than me in the second phase, but the question was, was he 10k stronger? I finished on 162 and a half, which meant the Australian had to get 172 and a half. He didn’t and I’d won the Commonwealth Games! I couldn’t believe it! I then went to the Olympics in 1984 where I placed fourth. It was really a kind of false fourth because that was the year that most of the Communist countries bailed out. I was still pleased at getting fourth place, though. I was only nineteen. I was pleased to be there. 1986 was the Commonwealth Games, this time in Edinburgh, and I was the favourite. I was competing against another Australian, Robert Kabbas, who went there as an Olympic silver medallist. People were expecting big things from him, and I basically trenched him and, you know, it was a very good feeling.

Then, the 1988 Olympics came round again, in Korea, and that was weird because I placed fourth but, in reality, I should have been at least second and probably, if I’m honest with myself, first … but it was not to be. Unfortunately, I had had dysentery two weeks before. I spent a week in hospital and then had a week to train, and it just knocked that edge off and I suppose, of all my disappointments, that’s the biggest because I feel that I should have won. 1990, Commonwealth Games, gold again. 1994, Commonwealth Games, gold again. I did do the Olympics in ’92 but I had an injured hip so that was really a bit of a disaster. Then, we got to 1998, an interesting time for me because I learnt a pretty big lesson then. I trained hard but I got complacent. There were one or two aspects of the training that were not going well and, instead of recognising and doing something about them, I kind of pushed them to the back of my mind and said, “It’ll be alright on the night”. And it wasn’t alright on the night, and I won silver when I should really have won gold and that really was – big headedness isn’t the word – it was over-confidence. I just went a bit crazy and thought, “I’m better than everybody else”. That was a valuable lesson for me which almost ended my weightlifting career. I was really disappointed because the significance of winning in 1998 would have been five gold medals which is not just unique to weightlifting, it’s unique to sport. When I started my weightlifting career, there were two things I really wanted to do and one of them was to do something unique. The other was to break a world record.

i can do that
I didn’t go to the gym for a year after that. I was really annoyed with myself and then – it’s funny how things happen and people come into your life and change things – a weightlifting friend phoned me, in 1999, and said, “I’ve booked a flight to Glasgow. We’re going for a boozy weekend”, and I was, like, “Whatever”. So we went, but he wasn’t really taking me for a boozy weekend at all. He was taking me to the Masters’ Weightlifting Championships. He took me along on the day that my class was competing and the guy in my class broke one of these world records and he said, “You can do that”, and I said, “No, I’m not interested”. He said, “You can beat those records”. Anyway, we went out and we began the boozy night and after about six pints, I said, “I can do that!”, and then I started training again. In 2000, I went to Florida. I won the World Masters’ Weightlifting Championships and broke the world record, so that was one of my goals achieved. It took me nearly thirty years to break a world record, but I finally did it, and I sort of thought that that was that.
Then I started getting messages from different people and one of them was from Myrddin John. He’s quite subtle in the way he does things. He sent me the ranking list of the Commonwealth Games and I was fourth and there was just a little note underneath that said, “You work a little bit harder, you might be able to win that fifth Games”. At the time, I was working hard and, to be honest with you, I never really had the money to put the time in. I did have a lot of good friends through my personal training business, and they all clubbed together to raise the money I needed to train for the Games. I could write a book on the training up to 2002 and all the unbelievable events that happened that led me to achieve my ultimate goal. I had all kinds of different injuries that I managed to overcome; and people that, in theory, were going to lift more than me, failed drugs tests and were out of the competition. I snatched a 145 which I thought was enough to win the gold medal, and the Australian, who had missed every warm-up lift, came out and snatched a 147 and a half, and I just thought, “That’s it. I’m never going to win a gold, again”. And I almost didn’t. I almost didn’t carry on in the clean and jerk but Den said, “Carry on. Do the clean and jerk”, so I did, with 160 kilos which gave me a 305 total. In my head I thought, “Well, that’s it. It’s a silver on the snatch, it’s a bronze on the clean and jerk, it’s a bronze on the table. That’s it”.

The competition was still carrying on and I went off for a shower, left, put on my tracksuit so I’d look nice when everyone received the medals, you know, blow dried my hair. As I was coming out of the shower, another lifter said, “Well, three silvers. The Australian was trying to beat the Indian and he put on too much weight and missed one of his lifts”. So I thought, “Okay, three silvers. That’s a little bit better”, so I went out and got the three silver medals. The Australian guy wasn’t talking to anybody. I mean, he could have taken lighter weight and won, you know. He did exactly what I did in 1998; he broke the rules; he stopped doing what you’re supposed to do to win medals, and, instead of using his brain and sticking with the formula – to take the lightest weight you need to win the competition and then, if you want, to go for records – his ego got the better of him. So, anyway, by the evening, he was talking again and we decided to go out for a beer together. We’re just sat there and he said, “I can’t believe all the things that have happened to you leading up to this Championship. Knowing your luck, the Indian that’s got the gold medal is going to fail a drugs test and you’re going to win the gold”. Three week later, I received a text message from Michaela Breeze: “You’ve got the gold!”. I went to Ceefax, and I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “I’ll take that!”. So, I did actually win five Commonwealth Games which is a unique thing, and I did break my world record.

it’s not a magic thing
One of the mistakes that a lot of people make, especially younger people, is they want everything to happen now and, the truth of it is, everything doesn’t happen now. Things take time. And the other cruel truth is that anything that does happen now and you receive without any effort, you will never appreciate anyway. I get people saying to me, “You’re always in a good mood. You’re always happy. What’s the secret?”, and I tell them, “The secret is to have a goal, always be working towards your goal, always be trying to improve yourself in some way, so that you’re growing as a person”.

And that doesn’t just mean physically, that means mentally as well. Step two is to always have something to look forward to; that could be a trip to the theatre or a holiday or whatever. I’m forty-five and I’m still lifting heavy weights, I bench press and dead lift, and every year I try to improve on something. I think it’s good for the soul.
I don’t think I’ve had anyone looking over me. I’ve just had a specific goal and I’ve kept working towards it, taken the knocks. It’s not a magic thing. If something doesn’t work, change it, keep moving forward and, in the end, you’ll win. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.

choosing wales

I competed for Wales in the Commonwealth Games. I had a choice to compete for England or for Wales. My dad wanted me to compete for Wales so I did. I was proud to compete for Wales. I was also proud to compete for Great Britain in the Olympic Games.

I’m not sure that Wales has celebrated my success that much, and I’m not sure what the reason is for that. I think I’ve been invited on just two occasions over the last twenty-eight years to the Welsh Sport Personality event. I expected to be shortlisted in 2002 when I won five Games because that wasn’t just unique to Wales, it wasn’t just unique to weightlifting, it was unique to sport. I was interviewed by a radio interviewer once who said to me, “You haven’t won as many gold medals as Thorpe, the swimmer”, and I said, “Well, that’s because, in weightlifting, you can’t. You haven’t got 25 different events. Thorpe won his medals in two Commonwealth Games which means that he was at the top of his game for four years, whereas I won five medals in five Games over twenty years. It isn’t a very fair comparison”.

I’m not a team player, I never have been and never will be. As far as I’m concerned – and this is going to sound slightly big-headed – nobody can train as hard as I can, and nobody will put the effort in that I will.

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